The US Air Force (USAF) has notably ramped up its funding request for developing a next-generation bomber aircraft, which is to still be part of a 'system of systems' and capped at USD550 million per production aircraft, officials said.
In its fiscal year 2015 (FY 2015) budget proposal the USAF requested USD914 million in research and development funding for the Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B). USD359 million was enacted in FY 2014 for the programme.
LRS-B is among the air force's top three acquisition priorities, the others being the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial refuelling tanker.
Eric Fanning, under-secretary of the USAF, said the bomber programme was moving head largely unchanged from its basic acquisition strategy, which called for a USD550 million per-copy bomber that fit into a grouping of systems.
"We're still using that [USD550 million] as a pretty firm … line for those companies that are bidding on it in determining which requirements get in and which don't," Fanning told reporters on 11 March. "This is keeping both the air force and contractors pretty disciplined about what they put into the bomber."
He noted that the acquisition was a priority for the USAF because its Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit strategic stealth bomber fleet has only 20 aircraft and the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress long-range bomber is ageing, so operations in a contested environment could prove difficult.
Fanning also said the air force was still considering a systems-of-systems approach to developing and employing an LRS-B, which would join other kit for its long-range stealth bombing mission.
"It's still a family of systems but I don't know when we'll be able to talk more about what that is," he said, noting that the programme remains fairly secretive. "I expect that … we'll be revealing more details and we'll be more transparent on the programme as we move forward and further into it than we are right now," Fanning added.
Northrop Grumman is reportedly developing a new stealth unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for the air force to conduct penetrating intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions in contested airspace, and such an aircraft could prove complementary to an LRS-B.
Northrop Grumman is also expected to seek work on the LRS-B programme given its experience with the B-2A stealth bomber. Moreover, Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced last year that they would partner to compete for the project as well.
Significant money is at stake as the USAF has said it could buy between 80-100 aircraft for the programme.
In its FY 2015 budget request, the Pentagon said its funding would support continued development "of an affordable, long range, penetrating aircraft that incorporates proven technologies" meant to allow the LRS-B "to penetrate the increasingly dense A2/AD environments developing around the world".
Meanwhile, the FY 2015 budget request also asks for funding to upgrade the B-2A via the USAF's Common Very Low Frequency/Low Frequency Receiver for survivable communications, 'Flexible Strike' programme that continues integrating a new digital nuclear interface to allowing the Spirit to eventually carry B61-12 weapons, and Defensive Management Systems-Modernization (DMS-M).
DMS-M is meant to improve threat location and identification capabilities, real-time re-routing, and survivability against enemy advanced integrated air defences, the Pentagon said. However, DMS-M's delivery is to be delayed to save funding, according to budget documents.